Zizek and the New Lacanians theory

Although not a 'school', the New Lacanians are said to comprise Slavoj Zizek, Joan Copjec and Juliet Flower-MacCannell. They are, broadly speaking, united by a new concern with what has been called the 'ethics' of psychoanalysis and its contemporary political ramifications. According to James Mellard, the New Lacanians emphasize Lacan's late notions of drive, jouissance, and the real at the expense of his early concepts of desire, the imaginary, and the symbolic; most are more interested in cultural studies and elements of popular culture than in literature [or film] alone; most construe the universe as ironic, tragic, or perversely paradoxical (so that everything contains its opposite); and because most color culture and its artifacts in dark tones, they are fascinated by film noir and related forms and themes.

(Mellard 1998: 395)

For our purposes, we might say that the New Lacanians supplant/supplement the earlier focus of (feminist) film-scholars on 'desire' and 'lack' (Mulvey 1975; Doane 1987) or the look and the gaze (Mulvey 1975; Silverman 1992) with other Lacanian notions, such as that of the drives, the symptom/ synthome distinction (which Lacan sees as fundamental to an understanding of sexual difference), and deferred action ('why a letter always arrives at its destination', ¿izek 1992: 154). Their political concerns - the 'ethics' of psychoanalysis - revolve around democracy and totalitarianism, universality and multi-culturalism. Joan Copjec, for instance, is in this respect critical of Foucault and the type of gender politics (as well as the film theory) based on his writings (Copjec 1994; see also Chapter 9 below for a discussion of Foucault and film studies).

Instead of concentrating on the imaginary and the symbolic, when assessing the film experience in relation to a spectator (the 'subject'), the New Lacanians focus on the imaginary and the real. This shift is a double one: it tries to free film studies from its obsession with vision, illusion, and representation, especially as elaborated around sexual difference, and it tries to repoliticize the cinema, by tracking the various permutations of the symbolic order under capitalist globalization. The imaginary-real axis becomes the key relation that most accurately maps the spectatorial dynamics of (post-classical) Hollywood, many of whose films can be interpreted as red alerts to the vicissitudes of (postmodern) subjectivity in the realm of the social. This social realm the New Lacanians would typify as authoritarian-without-authority (i.e. without the traditional legitimacy of the symbolic, as manifest, for instance, in the 'submission to the law of castration' typical of patriarchy and bourgeois ideology). This new form of lawlessness within the law, ¿izek calls the tyranny of the 'enjoying superego' (2izek 1999).

The third concern of the New Lacanians is the study of the relationship between temporality and subjectivity. Exploring and extending a concept first introduced by Freud (Nachträglichkeit), they bring the idea of 'deferred action' to bear on a number of issues relevant to film studies - and to Back to the Future, our film under consideration - such as time-travel, non-linear narrative, post-gender identity, trauma, and symptom formation.

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